Paddleboarding Destinations Ranked By Difficulty

“The Vancouver Paddler” by Glen Stedham (1999) is a great resource not only for kayakers and canoeists, but paddleboarding enthusiasts too. The author categorized his paddles into flat water (lakes and ocean shores) and moving water (rivers). He rated paddles in each category as Level 1, 2, and 3, in the order of increasing difficulty.

I think that’s a great way to categorize paddles, so I will take inspiration from Stedham and add a SUP and family spin. I’ll use my two kids (2 and 4 y/o whose experience level is dozens of hours sitting on my board) and myself as a low-intermediate SUP paddler (total paddle time around 100 hours spread over the last 2 years) as subjective references.

Open Water Level 1

Small lakes or protected inlets with swimmable water. No crossing of paths with motor boats. Besides calm, safe water conditions, good water quality is quite important since beginner paddleboarders can expect to fall in quite often in the first few outings.

I would let my 4 year old paddle on his own board here for as far as he likes.

Open Water Level 2

Minor hazards such as medium sized lakes, more exposed inlets, non-flowing river, non-swimmable water quality, or cold water temperatures year round. These destinations are good for beginners who have done a few paddles and don’t expect to fall in much anymore.

On a good weather day with winds <10km/h, I would carry my 2 year old on my board, and keep my 4 year old close to shore on his board. On days with >10km/h wind, I would not bring my young children. With >30km/h wind, I would likely avoid paddling here myself.

Open Water Level 3

Large lakes, more exposed ocean waters subject to strong wind and waves, or significant motor boat traffic.

I would consider taking my 4 year old on my board only on a perfectly calm day, and only for a short distance close to our launch spot, but not my 2 year old who is more unpredictable. As a low-intermediate paddler, I generally avoid paddling with >20km/h wind here, or at least I should.

To-do List:

  • Point Roberts
  • Pitt Lake

River Level 1

River with minimal current. Easy to paddle against. Little to no boat traffic. I’d be ok to paddle with my 4 year old on my board.

To-do list:

  • Salmon River – Langley
  • Campbell River – White Rock
  • Serpentine River – Surrey

River Level 2

River with noticeable current that require effort to paddle against. Or more frequent boat traffic. Would not take my children paddling here.

River Level 3

River with considerable current. Upstream travel not generally possible. Or heavy boat traffic. I would likely avoid paddling here on a SUP unless I’ve done it with an experienced group already. Widgeon Creek is a unique case because the creek itself is a level 1 river, but crossing Pitt River can be a hair-raising mad dash.

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